Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD is a medically diagnosed disability that affects both attention and hyperactivity. The disorder can come in three forms, attention deficit only, hyperactive only or combined type. However, since 1994 ADHD has been used as the term to describe all three forms. While a school district cannot diagnose ADHD they can provide valuable information that can lead a physician to make the correct diagnosis.
What teachers and parents need to understand about ADHD is that it affects different parts of the brain making it hard for students to focus, sit still, listen and pay attention. It comes in degrees from mild to sever, so it may look different from student to student. There is medication that can help with both hyperactivity and focus, but this is a discussion that the parent would need to have with the child’s doctor.
With or without medication, students with ADHD are capable of completing assignments and being productive members of a classroom. But depending on the severity of the students ADHD and whether or not it is accompanied by another disability, the teacher may need to make some accommodations to the student’s work and or environment.
As a teacher what can I do to help my ADHD students? First and most important be patient and try to understand that some of the behavior may be out of the students’ control. That doesn’t mean you have to let the child get away with whatever they want, but it’s hard to punish something they can’t stop. So instead of thinking about punishment, think in terms of prevention. Here are some ideas for common problems.
Won’t stay in their seat: Watch the student for a few days to get an idea of how long they typically stay in their seat. ( you can track this data using forms from The Data Dilemma) Then, get a timer. Let them know they have to stay seated for X number of minutes (time will vary based on age) and when the timer goes off they can go sharpen their pencil, get a tissue of what ever excuse you can find to let them get out of their seat. Then slowly increase the time. This keeps the power in your hands. You are deciding when and how the student gets up, but they are getting the movement they need. For older kids who have more self-control, put them in a seat that is in a less distracting location (possibly the back row or off to one side) and tell them they can get up whenever they need as long as they stay within so many feet of their desk and do NOT disturb other students. You can use tape to mark the “safe” area around their desk it needed. Or even give them a tall table or podium and let them stand while they work, as long as they aren’t districting to others.
Won’t stay on task: This is the number one concern I hear from teachers of all students, ADHD or not, “I can’t get them to focus long enough to learn.” Obviously the first thing you need to do is make sure the student is capable of completing the work. If the work is significantly above their level they aren’t going to stay focus. You need to differentiate the assignment based on educational need. (That’s a topic for another post.) So assuming they are capable of completing the work ,here are a few ideas. Put the student in an area that is less distracting. This can be done by putting up a folder to block the other kids, turning the students desk around of putting up a divider between desks. I know you don’t want to isolate a student, so start with something that can be moved once work is completed. But don’t be afraid to move a student’s desk to a new location if it will help them learn. What you DON’T want to do is put the student in the hall. This takes away instructional access. Also try listing out steps. If the student can mark off the steps as they go it will help them stay organized and keep moving forward. Also think about using a reward system like picture rewards. Have the student work to earn or remove puzzle pieces. When all the pieces are either taken away or put together, depending on how you set it up, they earn what the picture makes, like free time or computer time. (Make it so they don’t earn all the pieces unless the work is complete).Also the timer in this case can help; focus on not only staying in your seat but also being productive.
Loses everything: Students with ADHD sometime also struggle with executive functioning skills, like organization. Because of this, they will lose everything you give them. The key is to help them get organized in an age appropriate way. First graders may have homework folders that they have to bring in and put in a bucket. Then the teacher later takes out old homework and puts in new. So all the first grader has to do is remember to give the folder to their parent. But high school students will be responsible for homework in several classes and every class will expect them to turn it in a different way. So you may need to help them with a folder system. Then if they will get in the habit of putting all homework in the folder system they’ll know where it is; of course this doesn’t guarantee they will take it home and complete it.
They’re not listening: I hear from teachers all the time that students aren’t listening and in some cases they aren’t. But sometimes they are listening to more than we know; it just doesn’t look like it. I was observing a 7th grade boy with moderate ADHD in Math on day. He was extremely off task, signing and making noises. The teacher (who was a sub and did not know this student) was asking kids to give answers to questions that were written on the board. While the student did not understand the concept of raising his hand and waiting to be called on (a much-needed social skill that will be discussed in a later post) he did shout out 5 answers and 3 of them were correct. Three out of five! For a student with ADHD and a Learning Disability that isn’t bad. My point is he didn’t appear to be listening, but apparently he was catching on to something. Now this is not to say let your students sing and shout out answers, but understand that they may listen and fidget at the same time. For fidgety kids try a pipe cleaner or shoelace they can twist around their finger. Also try other fidget tools like stress balls and different textured strips of fabric. Click FIDGET TOOLS for more ideas. And remember, listening skills are LEARNED SKILLS. So no matter what grade you teach you may need to review how to be an active listener. Post rules such as eyes face front while mouth is shut and hand up mouth shut to remind students what they need to be doing. If you start this way on day one after a few weeks you may not even need to stop teaching to correct a talkative student; simply get their attention and point to the appropriate rule.
Can’t follow class rules: Often time’s students with ADHD get into trouble in school. There is NOT a disability or disorder that makes you incapable of following classroom rules!! ADHD is not an excuse to act however you want. It is important that teachers are firm and fair. The rules need to be set from day one and enforced. That is why the teacher needs to keep the control. If you know an ADHD student has trouble sitting for long periods of time give them an excuse to get up. Then YOU gave the permission therefore they aren’t breaking a rule. As a teacher I can tell you when it comes to ANY disability you will either figure out what the kids need and get it to them or fight it all year. You don’t want to waste a year fighting a loosing battle. Instead make some modifications, keep control in your hands and allow everyone in your class to learn. ADHD is not a free pass to run around the class and never complete assignments. But it is a disorder that may require some adjustment in assignments and environment.
For more information on how to keep your student’s attention check out this article,
“20 Ways to keep your Student’s Attention”
Now from the other side, as a parent what can I do to help my student with ADHD? Patients and understanding are going to be key from the parent’s side as well. Remember to be patient with your child; they may struggle, but also patient with the teachers as the work with you through the years.
Know what’s going on at school: Talk to your child’s teachers. Let them know your child has ADHD and give them information about what you do at home. Find out what they are doing at school. IF they are using a timer and working on staying in your seat, then you use a timer at home and work on the same thing. Reinforce what’s happening at school.
Be mindful of other students: Keep in mind that your child’s teacher is also working with other students. There may be 20 other kids in that class who also need to learn. So if there is an idea you think is awesome, share it, but remember it may need to be modified to fit into the classroom setting. The key is figuring out what your child needs and finding a way to integrate it into the classroom.
Don’t assume the teacher knows: Don’t assume your child’s teacher has worked with kids who have ADHD before. They may not have training in this area, so don’t be afraid to offer resources such as helpful websites and give them a chance to learn.
Talk about medication: While the school cannot and should make medication recommendations; it is important for them to know what meds your child is on and if they change. If you plan on taking your child off their medication or changing meds or dosage let the school know in advance. This may affect behavior and the school needs to be prepared.
Listen to the teachers: Sometimes when parents get frustrated with teachers or schools they want to discredit everything the school has to say. This is a mistake. Listen to one and other. Just like you have valuable information about your child the school has valuable information about their educations.
For more information on ADHD including diagnosis, medication and strategies click on ADHD.